Kainuu? Have you ever heard of it?
This region bordering Russia, one of the 19 regions of Finland in the Northeast of the country, is nevertheless as large as Belgium. But it counts only 80,000 inhabitants in its 8 (very large) municipalities.
Boreal forest makes up most of the biome in Kainuu. The forest in Kainuu mostly consists of birches, pines and spruces. The atypical regional geography and landscape consist of lakes, hills and vast uninhabited forest areas.
The capital of Kainuu is Kajaani, where the main airport of the region is located. Kajaani is linked to Helsinki by four daily Finnair flights on ATR72-500 aircraft operated by Nordic Regional Airlines (NORRA).
The region is not very populated but very dynamic. From education (with a University of Applied Sciences) to employment (30,000 jobs) to sports, tourism and culture, there is a wide variety of activities.
Aviation24.be was invited with other Belgian newspapers to tour the region and to visit a large number of sites representing the various activities of the Kainuu region. Kainuu will indeed be present at the Brussels Christmas market “Winter Wonders” and wanted to show its landmarks in advance of the event.
The first example of the creativity of the Kainuu people was shown at the Renforsin Ranta business park in Kajaani. Until 2008, this area was occupied by a paper mill, which closed in 2008 due to overcapacity. Five hundred people were without a job overnight. Not for long. The owners converted the site to a business park where 35 companies are now active, most of them in advanced technologies: energy production, data storage (which needs a lot of readily available cooling), logistics, etc.
We visited one of these companies, Valtavalo, the only European producer of LED lighting tubes. These tubes can instantly replace conventional mercury vapour tubes with energy savings of 70%. The Valtavalo products perform well in the competition with Asian imports.
The next visit was for the friendliest activity park in the world, SuperPark in Vuokatti. Modern lifestyle, in which most people sit for hours, is setting children up for serious health problems in later life. This is where SuperPark takes the stage. The idea is based on entertaining exercise. Young and old go there to move because it’s fun and exciting. They do freestyle tricks, play games and explore the wonders of the adventure areas. Physical effects come as a bonus. The company has expanded to 16 Superparks in Finland, Sweden, Hong Kong and China, with plans to go to other countries and continents as well.
The next day, our Belgian team had the opportunity to hike in the Finnish forest and to discover the splendid quietness of a well-equipped region.
The footpaths are well-maintained. Special rest areas with huts, fireplaces, benches and tables are disseminated everywhere; roadmaps and signs make sure you will never get lost.
The weather, an autumnal haze, was making the atmosphere unreal.
Later in the day was the time to visit a start-up company, Haapala brewery, which first initiated production in summer 2018. Its aim is to produce 50,000 litres beer with spices found from the Kainuu nature including spruce tips, pine tar and rye.
Haapala brewery produces different kind of ale beers like golden ale, spruce tip pale ale, rye IPA and tar Porter, just a few to mention. This is done in modern equipment with special attention to cleanliness.
The brewery also has a restaurant serving local food accompanied, of course, by the house products.
Next to the brewery, a bed and breakfast can host many families in a 150-year old typical country house or in small modern bungalows.
The next visit was related to sport, with the Vuokatti Sports Institute. Finland excels in winter sport, which is not a surprise. But Kainuu is the cradle where many champions were trained.
And the Vuokatti Sports Institute, which gets some funding from the European Union, is one of the major actors through a university research centre, the world’s first cross-country ski tunnel which is 1.2 km long and is open all year round, a half-pipe and snowboarding tunnel, and many more training types of equipment.
Its fame has reached China, and Vuokatti Sports Institute has agreed on co-operation with the Chinese Ministry of Sport in Summer 2018. The Institute provides coaching to 150 Chinese Winter Sports Athletes for the Beijing Olympics in 2022 in Vuokatti.
The Third and last day of the visit started at the Winter War Museum of Kuhmo, in the East of the region. In January 1940, Finland was invaded by Soviet troops far superior in number. But badly equipped for the harsh winter, these troops were encircled near Kuhmo and eventually surrendered. Four months later they retreated to Russia. The interesting museum shows many pictures, military equipment and material from that short war.
After that visit, the youngest members of the team took to the river for an adventurous floating experience through the rapids.
Throughout the visit, the Belgian team was hosted in typical restaurants serving excellent food, and most notably:
- Wanha Kerho Restaurant located in a 100 years old clubhouse building, rebuilt as a cosy restaurant that breathes the spirit of the old times.
- Restaurant Anorak, built in the 1820s, has been an old library, a nursery school, a maternity hospital, and so on. In September 2014, the building was transferred to Anorak Society Oy and renovated. Anorak Restaurant started in May 2017.
The accommodation was provided in Hotel Vuokatti at Sotkamo (all rooms with a view on the local lake) and in Hotel Valjus at Kajaani.
Aviation24.be would like to thank the Regional Council of Kainuu (in particular Mrs Tuija Pirttijoki) and Kainuun Etu Ltd (Mr Tuomo Tahvanainen) for the opportunity to visit their beautiful region.
Text and pictures © André Orban